London plus the Seine with Tauck

By Michael Mouat
This item appears on page 24 of the April 2016 issue.

The following are impressions of the 14-day tour “Cruising the Seine plus Versailles, Paris & London – Southbound” that my wife, Kathy, and I took with Tauck (Norwalk, CT; 800/468-2825,, July 11-24, 2015.
We had a suite on the Swiss Sapphire, so our cruise-tour cost $9,940 for each of us. The price also included breakfasts and some other meals at the hotels; all meals aboard the ship and on shore excursions; just about all drinks aboard ship (think Tanqueray and Moët & Chandon); site admissions, and tips (for ship’s personnel and even the tour directors). We also paid $749 per night for the two of us for a 2-day pre-tour option in London.
The cruise portion of our tour ended in Paris, but the tour, itself, ended in Versailles. Tauck saw to almost every detail, from the meet-and-greet at Heathrow Airport in London (a godsend for the severely jet-lagged) to each passenger’s ultimate return (by taxi, in our case) to Paris’ Gare de Lyon train station or the airport.
The Swiss Sapphire is one of Tauck’s oldest ships, but it is so meticulously maintained and clean that one can overlook the occasional scruff or tear here or there.
There were 90 of us on the tour. We were served by three tour directors and one cruise director, all of whom were French, though they conducted activities in English.
Most participants take these river trips because of the itineraries. The Seine provides fascinating contrasts, from the medieval Château Gaillard to a goat farm, an escargot farm (no samples) and an absinthe museum (with samples). With participants divided into three groups, there was never any mass confusion, even at the special dinner in a private château.
Then there was the shock upon waking up to another riverboat double-docked alongside ours, as happened in Caudebec-en-Caux, Rouen and Vernon. All natural light seemed to have disappeared, and leaving the curtains open (ours or theirs) could have led to a voyeur’s delight.
Sometimes the docking led to passengers having to pass through two or even three ships to reach their ship or the shore. In one instance, because of low tide, passengers had to climb over the top of the ship and down. To be fair, we all had been warned of this possibility (but only after we had made our final payments).
There were really just two major sources of irritation, for us: the group meals in the hotels and the choice of museum while in Paris.
With group dinners in hotels, no choice was given for appetizer, entrée or dessert; one took what was given. (On coach tours we’ve taken in the past, there were choices.)
At our welcome dinner at Simpson’s-in-the-Strand in The Savoy in London, a mold of some sort of pureed greens had no discernible taste, and a piece of what seemed to me to be dried-out beef was served with an equally dry Yorkshire pudding. Kathy said she found airplane food to be better. I returned my entrée and, by special request, was served a risotto of squash and asparagus, but that dish was so gluey that it, too, remained uneaten.
The farewell dinner, held in the main, largest dining room at the Trianon Palace Versailles in France, was much better, but, again, there was no choice.
In contrast, we felt that the food aboard the Swiss Sapphire was very good — better than that served by most large cruise lines. There were always meat, fish and vegetarian or vegan options, and white and red wines were available.
For us, one selling point of the tour was the chance to revisit the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. Tauck is well aware that some museums are closed on Monday while others close on Tuesday. Since we were in Paris both of these days, Tauck should have been flexible enough to have planned a visit. Instead, we were given a choice of the Louvre or l’Orangerie. (A visit to l’Orangerie is not a visit to the Musée d’Orsay. Or how about the Musée Picasso in the Marais district, just reopened in October?)
Fortunately, Tauck has apparently made improvements to this tour. After our trip, we were told that Tauck would be eliminating the arduous trip from London to the ship in Le Havre, France, done by way of Canterbury and Folkestone.
We left London about 30 minutes late, around 8:30 or 9, and rode the bus a couple of hours to Canterbury, where we had a delightful 1½-hour stop to visit the cathedral.
We continued to Folkestone for the Chunnel crossing. After an hour’s delay, each of our three buses was fit into a pod on a train and was required to turn off the motor. With no air-conditioning, numerous passengers felt claustrophobic. We were cooped up for 45 to 50 minutes. After arriving in France, Customs added another hour, then we continued our touring. We didn’t reach the Swiss Sapphire until 8 p.m.
In 2016, participants will travel by passenger train (no pods) directly from London’s St. Pancras Station to Paris’ Gare du Nord and proceed to the ship.
The 2016 itinerary will remain largely the same, including the early, private tour of the gardens at Giverny.
I did write to Tauck at the beginning of the tour regarding the poor quality of the food at Simpson’s. I received a reply with an apology. The only other time I wrote to Tauck about the tour was when filling in the end-of-tour evaluation form. I received no reply.*
Despite the “misses” described, Kathy and I enjoyed ourselves so much that we’re signing up for Tauck’s Rhine and Moselle cruise in 2017. We’re confident that Tauck will continue to delight and surprise us.

Santa Rosa, CA

*With many tour operators, evaluation forms are examined only broadly for general criticisms of the tour and suggested improvements. Any tour members wishing to receive individual responses should write directly to the company.
ITN emailed a copy of Mr. Mouat’s letter to Tauck at and received the following reply.
Thanks very much to Mr. Mouat for his feedback on the Tauck river cruise that he and his wife took.
Regarding their surprise at being double-docked alongside another riverboat, this is an occurrence common to all European river cruises, and it reflects the incredible growth in river cruising’s popularity over recent years.
Hopefully, this will improve as more towns and cities along Europe’s rivers increase their docking facilities to accommodate this growth. In the meantime, we feel that it’s a small price to pay for all that river cruising delivers.
We were surprised and sorry to hear of Mr. and Mrs. Mouat’s disappointment with their meal at Simpson’s-in-the-Strand, a restaurant described by the Fodor’s travel guides as “superb.”
At the conclusion of the cruise, we collect commentary cards that allow us to track our guests’ feedback on various components of their itinerary, and we are currently reviewing past comments on Simpson’s-in-the-Strand to determine if the Mouats’ experience was an anomaly or part of an emerging trend. (And, of course, we share all of our guests’ comments with our partner-suppliers on a regular basis for immediate corrective action where required.)
Regarding the dinner at Trianon Palace (where the Mouats enjoyed their meal but would have preferred a choice), we have taken their point to heart, and a choice of entrées will be featured there in 2016.
Finally, we were certainly sorry to read of the Mouats’ disappointment at not being able to visit the Musée d’Orsay due to its closure on the day of their visit (Monday, July 20). While we do, indeed, offer visits to a selection of museums, and although it’s difficult to time each Tauck departure visiting Paris to avoid all museum closures, we also include free time in Paris when guests can pursue their own interests in the city.
We look forward to hosting Mr. and Mrs. Mouat on their Rhine and Moselle cruise in 2017.
KATHARINE BONNER, Senior Vice President, Tauck River & Small Ship Cruising